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Why Honda has backtracked on 'agonising' F1 departure

Honda was criticised for its decision to leave the sport at the end of 2021 but will return with Aston Martin in 2026.

Honda shocked F1 when it announced its withdrawal from the sport at the end of the 2021 season just as it was hitting peak form.

The Japanese manufacturer had struggled for form when coming back to the sport with McLaren in 2015, leading to an early end to the relationship after stinging criticism.

But partnered with Red Bull and Toro Rosso - now AlphaTauri - pride was restored and wins became commonplace. Max Verstappen's maiden title in 2021 was a fitting send-off for the company.

A bitter taste was left when the reasoning for the withdrawal was announced, with Honda seeking to restructure its organisation in a bid to hit company sustainability goals. Whilst understandable at first glance, the bigger picture led to confusion when matched with F1's emerging environmental crusade.

The sport had announced its own targets and plans, with the goal to reach carbon neutrality in 2030 set and sustainable fuels already in development.

Now Honda has confirmed its official return to the sport in a works partnership with Aston Martin, the question still remains as to why it even pulled out in the first place.

"In 2020, when we made our decision to conclude F1 participation, we received a variety of harsh feedback from members of the media and our fans," explained Honda Global CEO Toshihiro Mibe, speaking at the announcement of the new Aston Martin partnership.

"It was an agonising and necessary decision for Honda in order to strengthen our initiatives towards the realisation of carbon neutrality - the decision has produced the desired effect within our company."

A new challenge

Despite officially stepping back, Honda has remained within F1's circles as part of a technology agreement with Red Bull as the Milton Keynes-based outfit prepares for its own powertrains journey when the sport introduces new power unit regulations in 2026.

So why make a fully-fledged comeback? Mibe added: "One of the key reasons for the decision to take up the challenge in F1 is that the world's pinnacle form of racing is striving to become a sustainable racing series.

"This is in line with the direction Honda is aiming towards for carbon neutrality. It will become a platform which will facilitate the development of our electrification technologies.

"In light of these changes in F1, many young engineers at Honda have expressed the desire to take on new challenges in the pinnacle racing series, insisting the new regulations will enable us to compete head-on by fully leveraging the skillset and technologies Honda has amassed to date.

"Such ambition to challenge the world's top-class of racing has always been a part of Honda's DNA, dating back to the founding of our company.

"Taking these factors into consideration, including its effectiveness as an opportunity for human resource development, we affirmed we could gain significant value from participation in F1.

"Therefore, we decided to participate in F1 as a power unit supplier in the 2026 season, where the new regulations will be applied."

We had discussions with multiple teams

- Koji Watanabe - Honda Racing Corporation President

Strongest passion for winning

Honda's inclusion on the list of OEMs signed up to the new regulation set was a surprise given the presence was revealed after current partner Red Bull had announced its new tie-in with Ford for its powertrains division.

Explaining why Aston Martin has been chosen as the perfect relationship, Honda Racing Corporation President Koji Watanabe said: "In November of last year, we registered as a power unit supplier for the 2026 season and after that, we had discussions with multiple teams to figure out the future.

"Aston Martin was one of them and through various discussions, we thought that Aston Martin had the strongest passion for winning the championship.

"I was personally honoured to visit the factory personally and they were making investments on things including personnel and moving forward.

"On the other hand, they have given us high praise for our power unit abilities, so it is not just that Aston Martin needs us, but we also really wanted to work together with Aston Martin."

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